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Cloud Bay gets double protection from off-lake winds. Its mouth, between two smaller points, is shielded by McKellar Point with its sheer, tall palisades.
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It’s easy to see why we love Cloud Bay, seen here looking southeast at a sunrise over Isle Royale. Johnson’s Point is on the left, Russell-Tussle Point on the right, and beyond it, McKellar Point.
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Thunder Bay Historical Museum Archives
Pioneer settler Ben Renshaw, circa 1920. Ben, 16 years older than brother Zeb, had large land holdings in the area.
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Edd Garry Colleciton
Zeb Renshaw poses with his sister, Bertha.
“… a little slice of Lake Superior heaven …”
July 4 this year marked the 39th anniversary of our discovery of Cloud Bay, Ontario, in 1969.
Our children were ages 8 and 10. Donna and I were bringing them up to be campers, and we chose the provincial park at Middle Falls on the Pigeon River for our Independence Day outing. (This park has long since closed.)
We had seen a classified ad in the Duluth Herald about a north shore cottage for sale in Canada. We weren’t looking for a vacation home, but were curious enough to call the owners and arrange to see this coastal inlet about which we knew nothing. It was close to Middle Falls and would provide a diversion from picking rocks, hiking and tending our camp.
We visited Alvin and Mae Lundell, who had built the cottage in the mid-1950s.
Being boaters, we were impressed with the shelter of the harbour. We were awed by the majestic cliffs of McKellar Point that protect its entrance.
We had long admired the rugged topography and security of the Canadian north shore, more hospitable than the Minnesota shoreline. It reminded us of Isle Royale, where we had honeymooned in 1955.
We returned to our campsite by the river, fixed supper, told a couple of stories, tucked the kids into their sleeping bags and poured a nightcap to sip by the fire. After talking about our afternoon at Cloud Bay, Alvin’s boat tour of the nearby waters and how close we could be to Isle Royale, Donna looked up and said, “I guess we’re going to buy it, aren’t we?”
We’ve retold this story countless times over the years. All who come here ask, “How did you find this place?” Among our visitors (many come by water) was the late Jim Marshall, who described our camp as “a tiny slice of Lake Superior heaven” in this column (February/March 1991, and in his book Lake Superior Journal: Views from the Bridge) telling about one of Skipper Sam’s Cloud Bay stopovers. (Skipper Sam being Jim’s faithful boat.)
The map shows the bay’s layout. It’s a popular anchorage, a safe depth for small boats, free of hazards and well-protected. It characterizes a stretch of irregular shoreline with many coves, islands and cloistered havens that starts at the international boundary and continues for most of the Ontario shore of the lake.
We have learned only a little about Cloud Bay’s past. There are vestiges of Ojibway presence, like the shortcut portage they used to avoid paddling all the way around McKellar Point. We don’t know the source of the bay’s name, shared by three offshore islands and a river (originating at a Cloud Lake) that comes to rest in the bay’s northwest corner. Some folks speculate that early settlers, traders or prospectors named McLeod had their name corrupted to Cloud. The bay is unnamed in the surveys of Admiral Henry Bayfield, who was the first to complete a modern chart of the lake in the 1820s. It’s likely that the voyageurs paused near here, just a pipe away from their destination, the North West Company trading post at Grand Portage.
There’s evidence of early prospecting and some extraction of silver ore starting in the mid-1800s.
Sawlogs and pulpwood were sluiced down the Cloud River until the 1940s, rafted and towed or shipped to mills. Cloud Bay was part of the north shore’s commercial fishery, also until the 1940s. Ojibway fishermen from the Fort William First Nation Reserve still occasionally set nets here.
The Cloud Bay Resort (“when hot weather drives you north”) operated here until World War II. Paddling around on a calm day, we can still see the engine blocks and other scrap iron once used to moor fishing boats and float planes.
When we came in 1969, there were about 16 cottages along the sunny side of the bay. Now settlement has about doubled, including many year-round homes.
The bay’s north shoreline was subdivided by the Renshaws who owned the western half and B. Van Johnson of Grand Marais, Minnesota, who owned the eastern half where his resort was located.
We have always felt welcome here and have a strong bond with our neighbours just as we do with our community in Duluth. We keep up-to-date on local issues and pay the same taxes as the rest of the folks. The only difference is that, not being citizens, we can’t vote … although we wish we could, especially in local elections.
While the scenery here is spectacular, the other reason we so love this area is the local people.
Telling about all our friendships would take many pages, so I’ll single out one of our first and most colorful Cloud Bay friends: Zeb Renshaw. Zeb lived by himself in a weathered cabin at the mouth of the Cloud River. He was born at Oliphant, Ontario, on Lake Huron’s Bruce Peninsula in 1893, the youngest boy among 12 children.
Zeb said his oldest brother, Dan Jr., came to Cloud Bay by rowboat in 1898. Several other Renshaws followed Dan, including Zeb and their second-oldest brother, Ben. Both Ben and Zeb were diamond-drill prospectors, and Ben logged the area’s white pine and built a sawmill on the left bank of the river mouth. Ben died in 1958, so we never knew him, but Zeb was our friend for 20 years until his death in 1989 at 96. Zeb’s footstone at the Cloud Bay cemetery (his death date yet to be engraved) had been in place for many years.
Zeb took us for walks in the bush, taught us to avoid nettles, showed us the area’s oldest birch tree and told stories about log drives on the Cloud River, the dredging of a tug channel in 1912, trading with the Indians and how fish company boats patrolled the shore to gather boxes of herring, trout and whitefish from nearby fishing stations. Our kids loved to visit Zeb in his cabin to watch him roll cigarettes and serve coffee in a soup bowl; they remember him as kindly, but they were too shy to ask him what was beneath the trap door in the floor.
In 1974, when I mentioned that our rock-filled crib dock was failing, Zeb said he’d fix it. At 83, he cut six mature white pine, hired a skidder to drag the long trunks to the shore, towed them to our camp with our outboard boat, notched and drowned the logs and pinned them in place. Once he got the cribbing above the water level, we were to do the rest. He had done the hard part.
(Our thanks to Edd Garry, Zeb’s great-nephew, for helping with names and dates of Renshaw family history.)
Renshaws’ landing sits right on the edge of a wetland described by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as “provincially significant,” a designation assigned to only 1 percent of Lake Superior’s Canadian coast. In 1999 a development group acquired 160 acres (64 hectares), including the landing and wetland, Russell-Tussle Point and the west bank of the Cloud River estuary, and sought re-zoning to allow a large trailer camp. This was one of the times the Larsons did get involved in local politics, voting rights or not.
The dispute lasted more than three years, but was settled after extensive study and hearings by the Ontario Municipal Board, which decided that the zoning change for a trailer village represented “overdevelopment” and “bad land use planning.” The Divisional Court of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice denied the Municipal Council and developers’ attempt to appeal the decision.
In November 2003 the voters replaced the mayor and several councilors who had supported the down-zoning for trailers.
Some of our Cloud Bay neighbours may be dismayed with my telling the world about our somewhat secret “slice of Lake Superior heaven,” but sometimes you’ve just got to let others know that heaven is out there.
Maybe there’s a bit of evangelism in all of us, especially when invited to describe such an exceptional experience in a special, even spiritual, place.
This issue’s Journal writer: Donn Larson, a member of Lake Superior Magazine’s editorial advisory board, wrote this at Cloud Bay, so he chose to spell certain words the Canadian way. Donn invites readers with historic information or recollections about Cloud Bay to write him at the magazine.